Geochemical and Paleontological investigations of the Neoproterozoic-Cambrian Transition: Case Studies on geochemical clast provenance, emerging paleo redox proxies, and ambiguous dubiofossils

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Virginia Tech


The transition from the Neoproterozoic to the early Cambrian world was a critical time in the co-evolution of life and the environment, when dramatic changes in the environment, including global glaciations and rising atmospheric oxygen levels precipitated the conditions in which variety of complex life emerged, diversified, and proliferated. However, questions persist regarding the timing and duration of those environmental events, and thus the extent of their direct effect on the evolution of life. These changing environmental conditions also produced unique taphonomic conditions that preserved a wide variety of organisms, and also produced unusual early diagenetic features that can be difficult to distinguish from fossilized organisms. In order to better resolve the link between life and the environment during the Neoproterozoic to Cambrian transition I present three chapters. The first chapter of this dissertation examines the carbonate clasts from a glacial diamictite deposited at the end of the Cryogenian Period in South China. By determining the source locality of those carbonate clasts using stable carbon and oxygen isotope compositions, we can better understand the extent of the Marinoan Glaciation and the intensity of its impact on the Earth's surface. In the second chapter of this dissertation, I investigate the changing chemical conditions of ocean waters following both the Marinoan glaciation and potentially one of the most intense disruptions to the carbon cycle in Earth History, the Ediacaran Shuram carbon isotope anomaly. I use Hg concentrations and stable isotope compositions to determine changes in sediment sourcing along with changes in marine redox, such as the development of photic zone euxinia. In the third chapter, I investigate the identity of Brooksella alternata, a purportedly cnidarian fossil that was later suggested to be a hexactinellid sponge fossil. My morphological and compositional analysis reveals B. alternata to be a concretion and thus a pseudofossil.



Geology, Paleontology, Geochemistry, Stable Isotopes, Carbonate Clasts, Marinoan Glaciation, Nantuo Formation, Mercury stable isotopes, Brooksella alternata, Doushantuo Formation, Conasauga Formation